Freedom of Information Debate

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Department: Cabinet Office
Tuesday 23rd January 2024

(4 months, 1 week ago)

Lords Chamber
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Asked by
Baroness Deech Portrait Baroness Deech
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To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the speed and scope of the operation of the Freedom of Information scheme.

Baroness Neville-Rolfe Portrait The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Baroness Neville- Rolfe) (Con)
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My Lords, the Government have no current plans to alter the law on freedom of information.

Baroness Deech Portrait Baroness Deech (CB)
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My Lords, there are so many problems with the system that I am now asking the Minister to commence a complete overhaul. My experience with the Department for Levelling Up is that it is not a department that levels with you. I have spent 11 months chasing a small request about the Holocaust memorial and have been met with nothing but delay and evasion. The £600 limit has stayed unchanged for years, limiting hours. There is the need for a reference by an MP. Time limits are not enforced. If you complain about delay, the department is given another 40 days to reply. There is no time limit on the allocation of investigations by the ICO; hence there is limitless hold-up in being able to refer to the tribunal. Does the Minister agree that the system is not fit for purpose and needs review?

Baroness Neville-Rolfe Portrait Baroness Neville-Rolfe (Con)
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My Lords, while I am very sympathetic to the noble Baroness’s dilemma in this issue, we have to draw a balance between the rights of individuals, the burden imposed on our public authorities and the Civil Service and, of course, the objective of improving and increasing transparency and accountability. She has had a difficult experience, first, with a complaint that turned out to be too broad and was therefore disallowed under Section 12— and the Information Commissioner upheld that—and I understand that she has now complained again and that the ICO has started its inquiry into that complaint. These are difficult issues. I would say that the number of requests received for information under freedom of information has been going up. In Q3 of 2023, there were 18,555—that is the highest ever—in spite of the progress we have made with making more information available every quarter as part of our transparency returns.